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Avoiding 'Pokemon' Seizures From TV, Video Games

Rapidly Flashing Lights May Trigger Rare Seizures, Experts Report

Expert's Advice for Parents

An electroencephalogram (EEG) test is needed to check for light sensitivity, says Erba. EEG tests can monitor the electrical activity of the brain during light stimulation; an abnormal response can indicate light sensitivity.

Should parents ask for that test for kids who play video games?

Erba says it might be worth consulting a doctor about that if kids are "very, very engaged in video game playing and so forth" and if a family member is known to be sensitive to light or has certain types of epilepsy that are more likely to be associated with the problem.

Under those circumstances, Erba says his suggestion for parents is to talk to a doctor "and figure out whether it might be worthwhile to get [the child] to have an EEG."

If the child is not sensitive, "there is no danger. But if they are sensitive, they should probably take precautions," says Erba.

"To have seizures, you have to be sensitive and you have to be exposed to a combination of factors that will bring you over the brink," he says.

American Advantage?

The same issue has come up in the U.K. and Japan, says Erba. In the journal Epilepsia, Erba and colleagues note nearly 700 hospital admissions in Japan -- mostly for seizures -- after a December 1997 episode of a Pokemon cartoon.

America's TV system has a slightly higher frequency than those in the U.K. and Japan. That offers "a little bit" of protection against the effects of rapidly flickering lights but not against quickly changing colors, says Erba.

He adds that the new flat-screen TVs have "no problem" with flickering but have much brighter colors.

"Video games and TV programs should not have flashes higher than three per second," says Erba. "You can have perfectly attractive programs flickering at three per second. You don't have to go to nine or 10 per second."

Video Game Group Responds

WebMD emailed the Epilepsy Foundation's recommendations and Erba's report in Epilepsia to Jason Della Rocca, the executive director of the International Game Developers Association.

In an email, Della Rocca says this is the first time he has seen this particular research.

"Video game[s] form an important part of the media and entertainment mix of millions people on a daily basis. And, I'd say that the maxim of all things in moderation will always apply," writes Della Rocca.

"Ironically, gamers -- young and old -- usually have no shortage of 'encouragement' to maintain that balance," writes Della Rocca.

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